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Mental health care urged during isolation

While social distancing is necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it can be harmful to people’s mental health.

Melissa Paulsen, a licensed marriage and family therapist and registered play therapist at Life Connections, knows this is a difficult time for everyone.

Paulsen said social isolation may be less detrimental to mental health for introverts, who get their energy from having time to themselves.

This differs from extroverts, who may struggle more.

“For those who are extroverted, meaning they get their energy from being around others, this will be more impactful from the beginning,” she said. “Some will have a case of FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out — despite there not being anything to miss out on.”

Contributed photo Melissa Paulsen, therapist with Life Connections, has advice on how to stay positive during social isolation.

Beyond the difficulty of not seeing loved ones, COVID-19 can also cause anxiety. Paulsen said many people may have anxiety specifically regarding cleanliness.

“Others may experience temporary compulsions with cleaning more than usual which to an extent would be a normal response. Someone can recognize when it’s becoming unhealthy because it will impede their ability to get anything else done or will impact their daily relationships,” she said.

Though being anxious is not a pleasant feeling, Paulsen said it is perfectly normal to have anxiety during this uncertain time.

“For someone who has generalized anxiety disorder, it can amplify their symptoms during this time which would be a normal response,” she said. “For someone who has no anxiety it is very normal to be experiencing anxiety during this chaotic time. It would be abnormal to not be anxious during this time.”

Though people should not let their fears consume them, they should remember that everyone is in the same situation right now. Many people share the same fears and there is nothing wrong with feeling anxious.

Paulsen said people struggling with addiction may also find themselves more affected by social distancing.

“Feeling isolated and lack of support could lead to relapse. Many AA and addiction support groups have moved to a virtual platform which should be utilized if possible,” she said. “Keeping busy can be helpful whether it’s focusing on work, calling a friend, calling a sponsor or going for a walk. Reach out.”

It is always important to stay in contact with loved ones but especially now. Humans are social creatures and need to feel connected to others in order to be content, she said.

Though the current situation may sometimes feel hopeless, Paulsen has some tips to survive the uncertainty:

“Limit the COVID-19 Black Hole. Social Media, theoretically, should be a way to connect right now but if you hop on Facebook you could be flooded with opinions and information about COVID-19 which may result in feeling conflict due to not knowing if what you’re seeing is factual or not…” she said.

Though staying informed on the situation is necessary, it is important to put a limit on the news one consumes.

“Staying up to date with information is important so watching the news and reading articles you find on Facebook is fine but don’t submerge yourself into it and fall down a black hole that leads you to feeling dismal and hopeless,” Paulsen said.

• Do not consistently focus on the negative. It can be easy to become obsessed with checking for the newest updates on this every-changing pandemic. However it is not healthy for anyone to be always focused on negative topics. People should remember that there are still good things happening in the world and this crisis will end.

• Set a routine and stick to it. Paulsen said with many people self-isolating in their homes, it is easy to let go of schedules and become disorganized. Keeping life as consistent as possible will help with having a healthy mindset.

“Whether you’re working at home or your kids are at home, it’s important to find a new normal,” she said. “We know kids thrive on structure, but so do adults! If you’re working from home, get up and get ready for work like you normally would!” 

Paulsen also suggests staying connected to loved ones through technology, practicing self-care such as eating well and keeping the same sleep schedule and utilizing coping skills such as meditation, journaling or guided imagery. She suggests apps like “Calm” and “Insight Timer” for this.

Lastly, people should not be afraid to seek professional help.

“If you are feeling so overwhelmed that it is impacting your daily functioning, please reach out for help,” Paulsen said.

Life Connections is providing Teletherapy through phone calls and video apps. Paulsen can be contacted at m.paulsen@life-connections.org to get connected with a therapist.

“Now may be the time to cultivate healthy new habits or hobbies!” she said.

Angie Troutner, Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Moonstone Wellness, said everyone is figuring out how to deal with this unprecedented situation.

“We are all trying to figure out how to cope myself included. I would say patience and common sense are the two biggest ways to beat this,” she said.

Troutner is continuing to take appointments while practicing the precautions of keeping a distance of six feet from patients and asking those with respiratory problems to stay home.

“I would say get creative and still seek out providers and doctor appointments as needed anywhere that is open,” she said. “Also using the arts, reading, music, games, cooking at home are other things I think help everyone.”

Troutner suggested going for walks to avoid cabin fever.

People can also seek help from Center Associates, which will now provide virtual mental health services, either through video or phone call through TELEHEALTH on their website.

Sharon Swope director of The Mid Iowa Triumph Recovery Center said since a case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Marshalltown on Thursday, if people need to talk to someone, they can call peer support specialists:

• Swope at 641-751-7656

• Deb Williams at 641-750-3292.

“Please talk to friends and family and keep your stress in check,” Swope said.

Contact Anna Shearer at ashearer@timesrepublican.com.

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